If you have a message to share with the world with your films, LEGO stop motion animation is for you! Unlike moviemaking that involves filming humans, shooting little plastic LEGO people called “minifigures” gives you full control over pre-production, production, and post-production at a fraction of the cost.
You also have the advantage of familiarity with filmmaking, so you’ll have a steeper growth curve.
Why would you want to make movies with miniature actors who cannot shrug or bend their knees? Here are 8 reasons.
1. LEGO Animation: Using The Perfect Medium
The Lego Group has created sets you can use to depict a seemingly endless number of scenarios. If it doesn’t exist, you can build it yourself using instructions and videos other LEGO enthusiasts have created. You can have elaborate houses, space ships, underwater scenes, trains, dragons, bars and restaurants, jungle animals, and anything else that your vision demands.
Most brickfilms, stop motion animation videos made with construction toys, like LEGO, are made at the scale of the minifigure, but you can sculpt entire worlds if that’s what The Muse encourages you to do.
Old and new
LEGO products all fit together, whether they were made in 1960 or 2020.
No skill required
If you’re not an artist, you don’t have to worry about sculpting or drawing your characters and the world they live in, or paying someone else to do that for you.
As a bonus, LEGO won’t melt, like sculptures, or become dehydrated, like humans, after being under lights for extended periods of time.
The range of available facial expressions for minifigures is wide, and some can be matched to mouth shapes. That means hours saved because you don’t have to manipulate that aspect of your photos in PhotoShop.
2. Control Over The LEGO Animation Process
It takes a miracle for two people to get together for coffee because everyone is so busy. Now you want to get an entire cast and crew together, or pay someone to do that dirty work for you.
Great! Now you’re together and . . .
Personalities, Mother Nature, Bad Luck . . .
- Your lead actor forgot his lines and is struggling to focus because there’s been a death in the family.
- The supporting actor doesn’t like the thong underwear Wardrobe has chosen for her.
- You’ve pissed off Mother Nature, and she’s brought a nice electrical storm to your outdoor shoot, so now you’re worried about evacuating your cast and crew.
- The director has changed his mind about the look of the noose used to hang a character, and now production has stopped for the 30 minutes it takes for the poor PA to make a different one and run across the massive parking lot to get it to set.
- The AD and the DP are angry at each other, and it shows.
. . . Vs. Full Control
If you were a brickfilmer, you would have full control over
- HMU . . .
You can step on an actor, literally, with impunity, and the hardest thing about transportation would be making sure nothing shifts too much in a box.
Then you can go crazy in post-production with all the voice-overs, special effects, color correction, foley, and music, your heart desires.
3. The Cost of LEGO Animation
You already have what you need
If you have a smartphone and a computer after the year 2020, you already have a very good camera and the software you need to create your stop motion animation software. All you need now is LEGO.
Let’s say you want to buy LEGO animation software so you can work faster and with fewer errors. At $300, DragonFrame costs less than a gaffer’s day-rate.
I’m not saying this to imply that we should put gaffers (or any other film-industry professionals) out of business. I’m saying that this is a good way to experiment with filmmaking, potentially making something polished and professional, like Piet Wenzel’s “The Villager,” in between or addition to your other films, with a smaller price tag.
Also, having worked in the film industry myself, I’m eager to show any non-filmmakers who may have stumbled on this post that filmmaking professionals are exactly that: professionals deserving of fair pay.
Permits or LEGO sets?
You wanted to film in the subway and the permit cost $3,000? You could start with the LEGO City Passenger Train (LEGO Item Number 60197). It comes with a motorized train, minifigures, even a hotdog. Then maybe add the LEGO City Train Station (LEGO Item Number 7937) and adapt as needed.
The train station has been retired, meaning that LEGO is no longer making it, so it’s a bit pricier, but at $245 plus the Passenger Train at $160, your cost is still lower than the day-rate for one HMU. Or you could find the instructions for the station online and recreate it, adapting as needed, ordering only the parts you want.
LEGO has a variety of themes, some of them licensed, like Harry Potter and Star Wars, and some not, like City and Friends. Each theme has a series of sets that come in different sizes and at different price points.
One of my earlier brickfilm attempts was made with the City Arctic series. I had the $10 Arctic Exploration Team (60191), which included a cute dog and a fossil suspended in ice. But I also wanted that saber-toothed tiger, so I got the Arctic Air Transport set (60193), which had the look and feel of the previous set. I had fantasies about the mammoth LEGO piece, but I didn’t want to spend $120 on the Arctic Mobile Exploration Base (60195).
So you can buy all of the sets in a series for less than the cost of an audio mixer’s day rate and have a richer variety of stories and sets built-in, or pick and choose.
Time vs. Money
What if you’re an indie or amateur filmmaker so charismatic that you can get people to work for you for FREE?
I commend you. And I recommend something like The Chinese New Year Temple Fair (LEGO Item Number 80105), which gives you a detailed temple façade, two flowering trees, four stalls (including a food vendor), and 14 minifigures representing different ages, from grandparents to a baby.
You can tell many stories with the temple fair set for $120. (I really love and want this set but cannot justify the purchase. Can you tell?)
Or you could spend that money on 2 of the many sessions of therapy you’ll need after dealing with the personalities and quirks of the people providing your free labor. I’ve made 12 narrative short films using free labor. I know these things.
4. Fund Raising for LEGO Animation
Kickstarter was new when I used it as the fundraiser for my documentary project. Because of the stress, I thought I was going to need medication for my suddenly-high blood pressure. Nowadays it’s often recommended that you have a team dedicated to fundraising over a long period of time. It can be stressful, time-consuming, and one more thing to pay for or to add to everyone’s list of tasks.
If you enjoy LEGO and are in it for the long haul, you have some fundraising options:
If you buy the right sets and hold them for 1 to 4 years, you could sell them for considerably more than what you paid for them. A recent study showed that LEGO did better than gold in terms of return on investment. You’ll have to spend some time researching and be patient. If that interests you, read my blog post about LEGO investment.
If the set has increased in value, even if you used it, you might still be able to at least recoup what you paid for it. Just make sure it’s in excellent shape, keep the instructions pristine, and do NOT disassemble the build.
If investing is about buying sets and holding on to them until their value increases, reselling is about buying what you can find at thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, and the like, and selling individual pieces. That blog post is coming soon.
If you think you won’t be using a set again, you can trade it within the LEGO community. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a Bricks & Minifigs store, a similar LEGO aftermarket store, or toy store, you can sell the set for cash or store credit. Do not disassemble the set or it’ll be treated like a pile of plastic, bulk LEGO, i.e. significantly less valuable.
If you do indeed pursue avenues like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or Seed and Spark, your videos will grab attention and delight, because people immediately recognize and are enchanted by LEGO.
5. LEGO Animation Opportunities
Film Festivals and Contests
Enter . . .
- brickfilm contests and festivals
- general animation festivals
- genre festivals
- and general ones
Bands love animated music videos! Brands do, too!
There’s an existing audience of brickfilmers and rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth AFOL (Adult Fans Of Lego) just waiting to see your brickfilms. They’ll be curious about you as an artist and can fall in love with your other work as well.
Unlike me when I started, you will have this blog as a resource, with everything you need in one place, explained from the perspective of a filmmaker rather than that of someone who builds for display or collects for the sake of collecting.
You’ll have information on:
- how to start where to get LEGO,
- how to store it,
- production tips,
- reviews of animation software and sets,
- news from the LEGO universe, and
- case studies
7. No pandemic worries
No need for
- COVID-19 compliance protocols
- COVID-19 PAs
- quarantines for cast and crew.
Need I say more?
8. LEGO is fun!
“LEGO” is the abbreviation of Danish words that mean “play well,” so everything associated with LEGO is colorful and intended to bring joy. It’s good for your mood and your overall health, my friends!
It’s easy for filmmakers to switch from making movies with humans to making them with LEGO. Making a brickfilm is infinitely easier in terms of scheduling, logistics, and personalities.
Even if you buy that $800 Star Wars Millennium Falcon, your LEGO animation can still be made for less than the day-rate for a producer.
In addition to your usual fundraising efforts, you can invest in, resell, or trade LEGO sets.
Your new animation skills can lead to more opportunities and exposure for your body of work.
Finally, starting on this path is easy because you now have resources on BrickStudioZee.com created by a filmmaker rather than a LEGO lover focused on display or collection for the sake of collecting.